Clash of giants in the Indo-Pacific: China vs. the United States

Metodi Hadji-Janev / Photo: "Free Press" - Dragan Mitreski

For now, the US has an advantage over China and is superior in several segments and domains. The reasonable restraint that the US will demonstrate without provoking a direct conflict is because the US still has absolute dominance at the strategic, tactical and operational levels of warfare in the full spectrum of operations.

While in the past period of all relevant entities in the area, the focus of the fear of global war was mainly placed on the outcome of the invasion of Ukraine, other hotspots seemed to be somehow forgotten. In that spirit, several dynamic shocks have remained under the radar of our analysis, although they deserve the attention they will certainly receive in the coming period. Nagorno-Karabakh and the movement of Azerbaijani forces to stealthily capture several key points is one of them. Parallel to this are the developments in Gaza and its aftermath, where Israel demonstrated in practice the power of the "Iron Dome" - an air defense system designed to intercept missiles - a virtual barrier over the skies of Israel. Here, of course, is the elimination of the leader of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan through the so-called concept of "Targeted - targeted elimination", part of the beheading strategy within the framework of the global war against terrorism.
But one thing that has the capacity to make tectonic disturbances that could give a different spin to all these conflict hotspots including those in the region is the Indo-Pacific clash. The clash in which the main dispute has the possibility of growing into a conflict of global proportions where the players are heavyweights - "China vs. USA".

The world is facing a mosaic of danger

Although for all the mentioned conflicts we will allocate a separate space for analysis that will later help us to complete the mosaic of the danger facing the world, the potential clash between China and the United States certainly requires priority with all urgency before the world goes to hell. Things are calming from there for now. Most likely because the USA knows its strength, and by God, so does China. The sparks that fly from the military maneuvers will likely remain in the world analysis and for now we can remain calm because the self-confidence of both entities is in imbalance and in favor of the USA (we will show why below and in the next two issues).

The demonstration of force, as a result, is still sending a message that is for the time being only secondary to the other instruments of power through which the clash of ideologies and values ​​that defies humanity in several parameters is effected. Without going into other detailed analyzes that are very important to understand the outcome of the whole analysis, we would conclude that for now the US has an advantage over China and is superior in several segments and domains (sphere/space of warfare). The reasonable restraint that the US will demonstrate without provoking a direct conflict is because the US still has absolute dominance at the strategic, tactical and operational levels of warfare in the full spectrum of operations.
All analyzes show that the capacity that the Pentagon has in terms of human capacity, hardware and software (material and technical means) is the only one that can implement sophisticated programs and projects for network warfare. The US, practically, not only theoretically (or on an exercise) has the knowledge and experience (which, mind you, is combat-tested) to implement the advanced battlespace management system. Furthermore, the US is the only one that has so far demonstrated in practice the capacity to combine projects (civil-military) and most importantly (a shortcoming that is costing the Russians dearly in Ukraine) the possibility of joint command and control of all domains (land, air, water and cyberspace).

 The US has an advantage over China in the Taiwan Strait

To simplify, in practice this means that during the 30-year dominance of liberalism, the US has developed such capabilities that it can preemptively degrade a key component of the adversary before the forces come into combat contact. It is evident through real material power, but also what is key in many cases – we would say an abstract component of joint dominance – staff experience in conducting operations by synchronizing the instruments of power for the decentralized realization of strategic goals (something we will devote one whole column).

Thus, in terms of general capacity building, the US has statistically spent 1945 trillion (not billion) dollars more than China in capacity building since 16. In terms of the Navy (which we will test in this article) the US has 11 aircraft carriers, and most of the building of naval supremacy is in this part of the world where it fought in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War . Hence, unlike the other combatant commands or the Pacific Command – which has the main say for operations in that part of the world, the Navy is represented by 60 percent. What many overlook when trying to compare the two giants is the number of battleboards – as a capacity.

For example, it is often naively claimed that China has the largest navy in the world. That's true, but translated into the field effect, it can have a completely different picture. In that spirit, it is true that China in terms of the number of warships – 360 operational according to the report to the US Congress, is superior to the US with 297 ships. But the bare number should not mean anything, especially if it is known that the majority of these ships are smaller ships and with another purpose – for coastal control. The next problem is armaments and systems, that is, the capacity to integrate them or, even more, the capacity to network these systems in order to enhance the entire performance of these assets. Here, the USA has a huge advantage, which measured in tons has dominance. Thus, the United States has a total tonnage (accounting for equipment and capacity to carry war-superiority weapons) in total weight of more than 2 million tons, compared to only 447.000 tons that can be carried by China's ships.

 Beijing is not at all a naive player of the "green choya"

Furthermore, a serious parameter is the fact that China has the capacity for only 1.900 combat missiles from its systems compared to the United States, which has deployed and allocated 9.500 missiles to its naval systems. The air component that is part of the US Navy is also a key factor. The US has 426 operational naval aircraft synchronized in what is known as the pinnacle of joint warfare (C4ISR – stands for command, control, communication, computers intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance) deployed on its carriers compared to only 22 operational such aircraft that China has. While China has 448 remaining aircraft (operationally known as fixed-wing aircraft) and 118 helicopters, the US Navy and Marines have 2.448 such operational aircraft and 1.249 helicopters. Liaoning and Shandong are China's two operational aircraft carriers, which together can carry a total of 70 aircraft. Even adding the capacity of (China's new carrier) Fujian, due to be commissioned later this year, will not be able to match the total capacity of 800 aircraft that the 11 aircraft carriers can carry with yourself. In addition, to maintain sea dominance, the US assigned the Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz strike groups to the Pacific Command through the US 2021th Fleet which in XNUMX conducted a synchronized exercise under an operational plan (assumption) to respond to future (note projected untested ) capacities of China.

In terms of the number of submarines, China and the United States are equal. But the weight they can carry with them (and thus the capacity) is different. The US has a three-times capacity advantage over China. The plans for awarding these capacities (Block 5) are for each of the submarines of this class to have a capacity of 40 missiles (ballistic) per submarine. But the Chinese are not indifferent and naive. China's ambition from 2019 is to shift the imbalance in its favor. To that end, China has launched an advanced program that seeks to asymmetrically challenge US dominance. With this program, China is focusing on destroyers and large amphibious land-based platforms in order to increase the number of means with which it can apply swarm doctrine - that is, asymmetrically able to bind the bulky giants of the navy. the United States, through an increased frequency of combat engagements at sea.

However, we will consider this parameter as part of the entire analysis in detail in the third part of this series. In the next two issues, we will complete the full analysis with a focus on the comparison of land forces, military aviation, cyber capacities and of course, the doctrinal and cognitive components, which are also a significant factor against the potential capacities (as we have presented them now).

(The author is a university professor, associate professor at Arizona State University, USA)

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